The Long Dark Offers A More Grounded Survival Experience

Can your survive The Long Dark?
Can your survive The Long Dark? Hinterland Games

One of my favorite memories in gaming was the first time I played Minecraft. I started alone in a frozen wasteland, had to fashion tools, find shelter, and prevent starvation or death by creeper. I felt alone in a large hostile world. But as I learned the game, this feeling soon faded. I could go anywhere I want and build anything I want with little fear or trouble. While the game offers many other stunning moments, I'm still sad that I will never really be able to go back to those moments of feeling lost and struggling to survive.

Luckily, Steam early access game The Long Dark seems an answer to my prayers. Most survival games are like Minecraft, where survival is really only difficult in the first few hours until you have gained the tools and skills to thrive. Unlike Minecraft, in The Long Dark you never really reach that point of becoming too overpowered for the world. Survival isn't just what you experience at the start of the game; it is the game.

Resources are far scarcer than in most survival games, and your body's need for water, warmth and food are far more demanding. The game takes place during a harsh winter, and if you spend more than a few minutes outside without the right clothing, then you can expect frostbite and hypothermia to greet you very quickly. In the same way, crafting is also far more limited than in most comparable games. You can only craft what a reasonable human being would be able to craft. Tearing up clothing to make rags is possible, but building a furnace is not.

Crafting also takes in-game time and during that, you are subject to all the aforementioned demands on the body. In an early game I was starving and excited to find a dead deer in the woods, luckily I had found a hunting knife so I could harvest the frozen meat, but the time it took to do so ended up giving me hypothermia before I could take the meat home to the warmth of my shelter.

Situations like this create an experience that requires planning just as much as action. The game is a roguelike with permadeath, so one mistake like mine could mean your life. Before you leave your shelter, you must plan exactly how long you will be outside, where you are going, how you can find heat along the way etc.

To match this, the gameplay is often methodically, hypnotically slow. Though there are moments of intense action, like a bear attack or getting lost in a blizzard, for the most part you are battling the slowly ticking clock of your own human frailty. It helps that the art design is generally gorgeous, reminding me of Firewatch, a game that shares a lot in common with The Long Dark.

The Long Dark really turned out to be the survival game I've been waiting for without even knowing it. Currently, it is still in Steam Early Access and though a campaign is promised, the sandbox mode is all that is active right now.

While the Sandbox mode has a ton of content, the wait for the campaign is almost over as it is due to release on Aug. 1, alongside a PS4 edition of the game. I'm especially excited for the PS4 version as I think this is a game that would benefit tremendously from console-style play. Though I hate buying anything twice, I think I'll make an exception for The Long Dark. Be sure to check back in next week with thoughts on the campaign.

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